For whom the Belles toll: The Kentucky Derby claims filly Eight Belles
This is the first Kentucky Derby I can recall not watching with bated breath—in fact, I didn’t watch it at all.
Like a junkie in withdrawal, I kept looking to my watch as it approached post-time, hoping a good book would prove sufficient distraction. I’d decided I wouldn’t be a part of it this year—or ever again.
Now, after the flurry of phone calls I’ve just received, you can be sure I won’t be tuning in to bear witness to its tragic conclusion. Though maybe I should—maybe we all should.
As no doubt you’ve heard, or seen first-hand, Eight Belles was euthanized on the track with bilateral fractures of her cannon bones’ condyles (at least that’s the news my vet surgeon consultant had access to at the time of this posting).
One leg is devastating enough, as in Barbaro’s case. Two carries a mandatory a death sentence—and requires it be carried out on the spot. At least the horse racing industry has a heart when it comes to killing its critically wounded competitors. Too bad there are so many of them…
Make no mistake: Horse racing is the most dangerous sport in the world—for the athletes involved. Short of high-stakes mountain climbing, in which humans take huge risks after assessing their own personal outlook on mortality, the "Sport of Kings" wins out when it comes to the athletes’ death toll stats—but without its competitors’ willing compliance.
Take Barbaro. His recent example proved two things:
1-To those who might otherwise have neglected to add up the fatalities, Barbaro proved to millions that horse…racing…kills…horses.
2-The casualties of this sport are lauded for their “heart,” conveniently shifting the emphasis on the crime’s perpetrators (the industry and all of us, its fans) to the glory of the animal—thereby fueling more Triple Crown fandom…and occasioning more deaths.
How sick and twisted is our culture that Barbaro’s legacy (apart from the excellent research into laminitis his prolonged hospitalization facilitated) has become one where the celebrity of the horse’s agony made for a bigger box office draw at the killing of another?
I think I’ll always be ambivalent at the sight of horses streaking down the track. I can’t help but catch my breath at the hammering of hooves and a glimpse of sweaty coats over rippling musculature. Like many among you, I grew up on this kind of equine athletic display.
But with equine genetics pushing animals further into a red zone where just pulling up might mean catastrophic injury, there’s no reason for me to subject myself to the needless slaughter first-hand. I’ll not expose my son to the gladiatorial gore, either. No, thanks, I’ll take my comments off the air from now on.
As you must be too, I’m beyond disgusted by what happened today. That’s why this filly should serve as more than just another needless cautionary tale in the annals of horse racing. It advances a moral imperative to us, her fans, and most of all, to the industry itself: Reform. Fast. Or. Die.
If this tragedy had to happen, all I can say is that I’m glad it happened on the industry’s most “glorious” race day. There’s nothing like a conspicuous catastrophe, without a protracted agony like Barbaro’s and its obligatory spin, to bring the real meat of the issue to the fore: Horse racing as it’s currently practiced is not a sport for animal lovers.
Barbaro’s death was enough for me…will Eight Belle’s be enough for you? If so, I’ll ask you just one favor: Boycott the Triple Crown...at least until the industry responds significantly to the need to reform its practices. That’s not so hard after what you saw today…is it?